Recent Article on Emigrant Bonuccelli in Il Tirreno Newpaper

Ilaria Bonuccelli of Viareggio, journalist and correspondent with the leading newspaper of Versilia, Il Tirreno, interviewed a handful of people including myself in 2004 for an article about emigrant Bonuccelli in America. The full page article came out in May, 2004; of course it's in Italian, but I've provided an approximate translation below. Italian is a language in which the verb and subject are often swapped, much like the way Yoda talks, so I've tried to make the sentence construction as understandable as possible ;) Of course in order to make an interesting headline they have to make the part about Al Capone as big as possible...Anyway, click on the image of the article to see a full sized JPEG enlargement.

vincenzo bonuccelli's family tree painting


IL TIRRENO Newspaper: Saturday, May 15, 2004

VERSILIA Section of Paper: Tuscans of America

Main Article:

Bernardo - from Camaiore to Chicago,
To purchasing the Bagno Duilio in Viareggio,
Which is still run by his descendants…

Aleck, pilot of the bombing of Berlin,
Decorated for his dangerous missions in Europe,
From the pioneers of the railroad to fruit markets.

By Ilaria Bonuccelli

SPOKANE: Olinto looks at his last name – Bonuccelli – and understands that it’s too long for America. He completely erases the paint on the truck for his masonry business, which constructs catholic churches. With a last name so long, the letters become too small. From the street, that interminable last name doesn’t stick in anyone’s mind. Olinto, emigrated from Camaiore on April 18, 1903 with only the strength of his arms (and escaping the Italian famine), doesn’t know what American marketing is. But he does understand that he should shrink the last name if he wants it to fit on the truck. Or rather, on the “trocco” (for Italian Americans). Olinto, however, thinks about it a bit and then decides: he’ll amputate a “C.” To the Americans, little does it matter how you spell your last name: the double letters are never pronounced. And his identity as an Italian emigrant won’t be erased: in every moment, he can always talk with his siblings that, like he, have left Camaiore for America. Five Bonuccellis of nine, in search of good fortune.

Olinto is bright. Bright enough to make himself known and respected in the Italian quarter of Chicago, where you conquer a space in life and one more important in death, seeing as how he’s buried near the flank of the tomb of Al Capone, the all-time gangster. But all the Bonuccelli siblings put solid roots in the United States, where some hundreds of their descendants still live, even if the last names – through the marriages – have changed. The gang, however, has remained the the same old group, with characteristic physical markers, a genetic bridge between the United States and Versilia. A solid bridge, that renders the Bonuccelli one of the more important groups of Tuscans abroad. Not by chance, the young photojournalist Dominic Bonuccelli, great grandson of Vincenzo, one of the emigrated brothers of Olinto, is creating (in the USA itself) an association to reunite everyone, from California to the State of Washington. A map of the Bonuccelli in the world – of those with attachments still strong with Italy, Tuscany, and Camaiore in particular. But also of those like his grandfather Aleck – son of Vincenzo and nephew of Olinto – that had been only once to Italy in all his life. For Aleck, only five hours, to Viareggio, to see the swimming beach establishment – Bagno Duilio, along the Passeggiata – acquired by Bernardo, the uncle commuting between America and Versilia: the first of the Bonuccelli in the United States. Bernardo, in fact, arrived in the United States on October 11, 1901. As all the legal immigrants of the day he arrived at New York, but Bernardo settled in Chicago. It is here that two years later Olinto catches up with him, and opens the door to the other siblings. That then rarely return to Italy. For Aleck, for example, it was a return of only five hours, a short time since April 17, 1909, when together three brothers, Demetrio, Vincenzo and Bernardo travelled from Viareggio to New York; a date by which already had begun the shuttling of Bonuccelli between USA and Versilia.

In reality, Aleck had been in Italy more than one time. In the sky, however, as opposed to on ground. He had tread little on the earth of his family roots, but from the height of his combat airplane, a B17, he had watched over it from a distance, during the second World War. Flying over Europe, Aleck had protected the ground from the attacks of the Germans, common enemy of the Italians and the Americans after 1943. Bonds between sky and earth, therefore, for the Bonuccelli. Aleck hampering the German onslaught, on high. His Italian relatives, some never known, defending the city, down below.

Of this very thing speak the letters that the pilot – decorated in 1944 for military valor – and the Camaioran relatives exchanged in the last years of the World War. The correspondence of people unknown to each other, holding together roots sprouting from a single great tree, not sprung from the beginning of the century and not even in the previous one. But from 1378, the Bonuccelli were in the preserved records of Camaiore. It’s in that year that, for the first time, the last name Bonuccelli appears. Almost six centuries before the huge migratory wave, in which also the ancestors of Dominic Bonuccelli were transported. All according to script: a boat from Genoa, quarantined on Ellis Island in New York, where all the Bonuccelli siblings from Camaiore – Olinto, Vincenzo, Demetrio, Bernardo, and Ida – were registered. At the museum of immigrants on the island on which the Statue of Liberty stands, the traces of their passing are evident. Also in the responses to the immigrants’ entry questionnaire: “Are you communist?” “Are you an anarchist?”

And for the Bonuccelli, then, an ordinary arrival in New York. But from there the paths divide the group in short order. Olinto to Chicago, to construct Catholic churches and houses, cruising through the streets in the truck with the shortened last name painted on. Vincenzo, after a stop in the house of Olinto in Chicago, instead goes to Spokane (in the state of Washington, near Seattle) to work on the railroad, to help unite the west with the east of America; Demetrio (after a stop in Chicago) to San Francisco, with his “fresh market,” to sell fruits and vegetables of the season in the Italian quarter. Ida, instead, the sister – arriving in the United States on November 7, 1910, ends up in Los Angeles, married and a housewife, while Bernardo – the brother most well-off – continues all his life to go here and there between Chicago and Italy, a nostalgic coming and going, with one foot hither and one foot yon straddling the ocean. Water that links two countries, in this case, instead of dividing them. It must be because of this that in Viareggio Bernardo decides to buy the Bagno Duilio, still today owned by the family Bonuccelli, of that stock from which also descends Vitaliano Bonuccelli, that ever-so-loved soccer player of Viareggio. And Cristina Testoni, young businesswoman that – in accordance with the emigratory vocations of the family – some years ago fled for Arizona, not in order, however, to forget the Italian sea.

Just like Vincenzo, great grandfather of Dominic, that in marriage chose an Italian wife, Frusina Ratti, originating from the province of Pistoia. An Italian wedding and an Italian first child, by Vincenzo: Annie (Giuseppina on the documents), the first born, infact, born in Viareggio on March 20, 1909. Then, a few years later, she confronts with her mother the ocean crossing from Viareggio and arrives on Ellis Island: her American disembarking on July 1, 1915, while Europe is reeling from the mortal blows of the first World War. Probably also because of this, the other children of Vincenzo – Aleck and George – were born in the States. “My great grandfather Vincenzo,” recounts Dominic, “spoke only Italian to the children, because when they emigrated they didn’t know English. Because of this, my grandfather, Aleck, knew the language of his country of origin. However, he and his siblings spoke English to their children. They didn’t want them to speak Italian to help facilitate their integration into American society. Today this can seem strange, but at that time, there was a strong discrimination towards Italian immigrants. Even if Italian, as a language, was removed from the Bonuccelli house, the Italian cuisine was never evicted from the table, above all the cuisine of Tuscany. Still today, with my grandmother, it’s tradition to prepare the raviolis for Christmas and the stuffed zucchini flowers in summer.”

Nothing strange in this if you think of Aleck (and also his brother George) in America, following in the footsteps of his uncle Demetrio, cultivating the land and selling the produce in a fruit and vegetable store – “market” they call it – with the produce in plain view of the sidewalk, like we recall in the sepiatone photos that the emigrants often sent home, to Italy. Clean apron, waxed moustache, hair slicked back and the merchandise all on display. It’s following the scent of the “watermelon” – the “cocomero” or “melone d’acqua” as the American Italians called it – that Dominic Bonuccelli began to retrace the history backwards. Departing from his father Bob (a real estate agent) and from his uncle Jim and aunt Jeanne, ending with his Italian relatives. Those already met, between the branches of an immense family tree, and those (more numerous) yet still to meet.

The journey backwards, however, is less difficult than expected. That is because of the large amount of letters that the family Bonuccelli has still preserved, because of the news tidbits that the American newspapers had dedicated to the Bonuccelli family. To Vincenzo, to the wife Frusina. And to Aleck, a hero of the second World War. Pilot that bombed Berlin. And who, with air raids along the coast of France, supported the Allied landing of Normandy. “Berlin,” recounted Aleck Bonuccelli in one article, “was our worst mission. On that occasion, we lost most of our oxygen, we found ourselves with some 100 holes in the plane and our radio operator was killed. Another two of our men were injured. It was a really ugly afternoon.” And for the mission, Aleck Bonuccelli was decorated, in August of 1944. All in the afternoon of an emigrant family in America.


Second inset article at bottom:

The extensive letters between the siblings and relatives separated by an ocean and by standards of living.

SPOKANE: “My dear son, I come to respond to your letter, in which I have understood that you enjoy good health for the present….I hear also that things are going really bad for you, but don’t get annoyed, let’s hope that work will come up and that you will be able to support and take care of your family. I certainly am old but I’m content because I’m 82 years already; therefore I am old and I can’t lament of my condition, just that there is a leg that gives me a lot of annoyance, you know that I’ve always had that problem but now it’s giving me more pain than ever.” – Viareggio, January 17, 1934.

So writes Cesare Bonuccelli (the words have been reprinted verbatim) to his son Vincenzo, emigrated to America in search of good fortune. It is one of the letters of correspondence that the Bonuccelli of America conserved of their relatives in Italy, from which they received testimonials, news on the grandchildren never known, news on their disappeared relatives. There are letters written to Vincenzo from his nephew Caruso that for years managed the Bagno Duilio, acquired by Bernardo, the first Bonuccelli emigrated to America from Camaiore at the beginning of the 20th century. America is seen by Italy as a land of well-being. Because of this on July 6, 1946, immediately after the war, Elda, another daughter of Bernardo, writes to her uncle in the United States: “I write you first of all to let you know that in terms of health everyone is getting better from what we’ve gone through. Of course it’s slow going. My husband had (some sort of sickness) and needs wool on him, if you can send me a shirt and a pair of longjohns, I will acknowledge you in any way I can. We had so much stolen but in August 1944 we lost everything.”

Lastly, a letter from 1958 to Vincenzo from the granddaughter of his sister Adele: “I write you although I don’t know you, but grandma has always talked to me about you and about all the siblings she has in America, including your sister Ida. I have had the honor of meeting aunt Ida and uncle Demetrio, now deceased, but knowing you are a brother of my grandma I feel love also for you although I’ve never seen you in person.”



Above: Portrait of the family in the United States; of Vincenzo Bonuccelli, his wife Frusina Ratti, and their three children: Annie, Aleck and George.

To the Right: The entire family of Vincenzo on the occasion of his golden wedding anniversary – in addition to his children, there are the spouses of his children, and grandchildren.

Military picture: Aleck Bonuccelli, the pilot of the family decorated for his missions during the second World War.

Thanks very much to Ilaria Bonuccelli for taking interest in this story and bringing it to fruition...


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REGISTER: Bonuccelli nel Mondo USA

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LINKS to Handy Resources


= email address = Bonuccelli genealogy website = Dominic's photography website
7925 North Oracle #144A, Tucson, Arizona USA
tel USA 407-404-4114
fax USA 520-297-7658

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